Winning at the Fair
Or how I learned to stop sinning and love the mixer
By Essie Lustig 08/09/2012
It was a strange night, one of those nights when my friends “borrowed” a case of wine from a gallery opening, and I found myself having a ridiculous discussion about the nature of existence, or whatever, with an exchange student from a Baltic nation. At daybreak, I looked into a bathroom mirror at my sleepy eyes and vowed to shut my pretentious mouth and do something wholesome with my life. Nine years later, I figured out what form that “wholesome” test of my character would take: I would enter the baking competition at the Ventura County Fair. What is more all-American than that? Nothing, clearly.
For a couple of days, I scrambled to figure out what I was going to make and how I was going to do it. A few problems emerged. My tremendously patient boyfriend and I share a lovely one-bedroom flat in downtown Ventura that is suitable for everything but cooking. You see, our kitchen is about half the size of a toddler’s playhouse, and that is great if you are a character in a Warhol movie, but rather prohibitive when you are determined to become a slightly less-felonious Martha Stewart. The second problem was that I only knew how to bake four goods, three of which were legal. I was determined to find the new fourth.
For motivation, I watched a lot of “true crime” television. I have no idea why, but I can tell you that the city of Indianapolis has a crackerjack set of homicide detectives. Next, I made the three desserts I knew by heart: blondies (the ingredients of which cost more than my car), French madeleines, and cookies made with frozen orange juice. Did I pick that one up in Girl Scouts? Yes, I was a Girl Scout. Things happen, OK?
Wanting to be annoyingly original, I decided I would try to make the first “bacon and egg cupcakes” because everybody loves bacon and everybody loves cupcakes. Obviously, the two worlds were bound to collide. I settled on a basic yellow cake recipe but added a few extra eggs and some food coloring. Voila! Then I thought of how I would make bacon-flavored frosting, did some crying (just kidding, I took a valium and watched more crime shows), and finally scoured Amazon.com for bacon flavoring. I found it and paid way too much to have it speed-shipped the night before the entries were due. When it arrived, I was massively disappointed — it was not candy-flavored; it tasted like straight-up mesquite. Still, I mixed the foulness into the frosting, topped each cake with a fondant strip of bacon and a little candy egg, and I sped over to the fairgrounds before work.
The lovely woman who accepted my entries did not seem to mind my anticipatory sense of failure nor did she notice my existential transition, thankfully. I went back to work and forgot about the Fair for a few days, but I did feel like a marginally better person. I had a slight spring in my step and I waved at babies. (The latter is not true. I lead a life that involves never coming into contact with anyone younger than 25.)
Out of the blue, I received a text from my mom that read, “U won something!” I was surprised, but mostly because I discovered my mom texts like a tween. As for my entries, the orange cookies and blondies yielded second-place ribbons while the madeleines brought home the gold. The bacon and egg cupcakes — nada. I guess the journey was the destination or a similar cliché, but above all, I would like to thank the Indianapolis P.D. Keep up the good work, guys!
Essie Lustig’s fabulous baked goods may be viewed, along with her competitors’ entries, in the Home Arts Building at the Ventura County Fair through Aug. 12; weekdays, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; weekends, 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m.